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Science

German government proposal takes aim at Internet piracy

Berlin is reviewing its approach to fighting illegal downloading in Germany, from how it deals with copyright offenders to the penalties they pay for pirating songs, films, texts and other protected materials online.

An Internet cable plug

Fighting illegal downloads is an ongoing challenge

A new 12-point paper released Friday by Germany's state minister for culture, Bernd Neumann, proposes a standard warning system for Internet users who illegally download copyrighted material.

The plan envisions an "efficient" system to complement the existing legal framework on Internet piracy. Potential copyright violators would receive warning notices, allowing them to cease prohibited downloading "without legal and financial consequences."

Germany's state minister for culture, Bernd Neumann

Neumann supports "efficient" additions to Germany's current rules on pirated content

At the same time, the paper stressed the importance of battling copyright offenses – even citing UNESCO's Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.

"The challenge remains to prevent plagiarism and other copyright infringements," the government proposal stated. "The unauthorized uploading and unlawful downloading of works are not trivial offences."

Word of warning

Neumann acknowledged that for the system to be effective, repeat infringements must be met with a serious response.

Nevertheless, the warning option would give authorities the chance to explain infringements to offenders without the "immediate threat of penalties." It might also prompt Internet users to review the security of their wireless connections.

Moreover, a standardized procedure could be instituted on a larger scale without putting more pressure on the courts and public prosecutors, according to the document.

An Internet user visits on online radio website

Internet radio provides a legal alternative for music fans to listen to copyrighted songs

Once copyright infringements reach the penalty stage, Neumann proposed that fines be equivalent to double the normal rights fee, saying a lesser amount would not exceed the cost of obtaining the content legally and thus "create no incentive to follow the law."

A welcome approach

The proposal was well-received by the Association of the German Music Industry (BVMI), as well as the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, which represents some 6,500 companies, shops and representatives.

"In terms of national policy, this paper is a very important step forward," said Alexander Skipis, the association's director. "It puts the focus on cultural assets and the cultural creative process."

The proposal reasserted the rights of the copyright holder, rejecting the notion that such laws should be reformulated to benefit consumers of copyrighted materials. If artists can no longer make a living through creative pursuits, the paper read, the resulting loss of creative diversity would ultimately disadvantage the user.

An Internet cafe in Beijing, China

The cross-border nature of online piracy requires action at the European level

Neumann also underscored the need to address the cross-border nature of Internet piracy. An Internet user in Germany, for instance, might download content from a website with servers based in another country.

"The current agreement on this is not enough," the paper read. "Concrete measures in Germany must be incorporated within the appropriate framework at the European level."

Author: Amanda Price (DPA)
Editor: Cyrus Farivar

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